Home > Blood Gamble (Disrupted Magic #2)(14)

Blood Gamble (Disrupted Magic #2)(14)
Author: Melissa F. Olson

I was able to relax a little inside the SUV, since none of the people in the car were bothered by my radius. Sweat had broken out on my forehead, and Juliet shot me several concerned looks. I noticed Cliff glancing at me a couple of times in the rearview mirror, a slight question in his eyes. I smiled brightly and made an effort to join in the small talk during the short ride, though sometimes it felt like Bethany was deliberately steering the conversation toward things I knew nothing about. As soon as we got out, though, I had to clamp down on my radius, and Laurel took my arm again.

After what felt like hours, we made it into the Bellagio, through the slot machine gauntlet, and into the theater, where Laurel asked if we could take the small elevator so she wouldn’t have to climb the stairs in heels. I shot her another grateful look, since our group would fill the elevator and I could relax for another moment.

I felt plenty of vampires while we moved through the theater, but after we found our seats, I loosened my grip on my ability as slowly as I could, and was relieved to find that there were no vampires seated within my radius. I slumped with relief and looked around. I was at the end of a row, with Juliet on my left and Laurel on her other side, followed by Tara and Bethany. Our seats were perfect: the first row of the balcony, where I could easily see the whole thing, but wouldn’t be able to actually short out any of the performers’ magic, at least not without a huge effort on my part. Nothing would scream “playing it cool” like me accidentally forcing one of the vampires to turn human and fall to his death or something.

There were another ten minutes before the actual start time, but on the front of the closed curtain, they were projecting a little movie, made with some kind of flat, papery animation. It took a moment for me to realize it was the basic story of Dracula. A man dressed in business clothes goes to a faraway land and meets a creepy old guy in a long black cloak. The cloaked guy tries to kill the businessman and then sails far away, to the businessman’s homeland. He meets a beautiful and coquettish blonde woman with several suitors—Lucy—and takes a shine to her. The foreigner—Dracula, of course—bites her neck, and she grows ill. Eventually she dies in bed.

At that point, the suitors, along with another man dressed in strange clothes, probably Van Helsing, go to her grave site and find her alive. So to speak.

In the novel they stake her, but in this version of the story events unfold just as Dashiell described: Van Helsing leaves Arthur Holmwood to destroy Lucy’s corpse, but he can’t do it. Instead, Arthur returns later and throws himself down on his knees in front of her. Lucy takes his hand, pulls him to his feet, and bites his neck.

I knew that the novel went on quite a while after this, becoming a story about Jonathan Harker’s attempts to thwart Dracula, along with his young fiancée and the other suitors. (Harker and the Suitors should be the name of a goth band somewhere.) But the animated recap ended after Lucy bites Arthur, probably to make the point that this wasn’t Dracula’s story or Harker’s story. This was the Holmwoods’ tale, and them becoming vampires together was the happy ending.

“Do you want a mint?” whispered a voice next to me. I jumped, and Juliet let out a surprised chuckle. She was holding out an open tin of Altoids. I took a mint.

“You okay?” she asked. “You look a little out of it. Don’t tell me you’re scared of Dracula.”

“Dracula’s not real,” I said absently. Then I realized that she was staring at me, so I pulled together a wan smile. “Sorry, I was just . . . thinking about work.”

Juliet still looked a little puzzled, but before she could say anything else, the lights switched off and the curtain began to open.

The stage was an enormous semicircle—no, nearly a full circle, going deep behind the curtain. At the far end of the stage there was an almost life-size wooden ship, battered and blackened from an imaginary wreck. The edge of the stage was rounded, and the surface had been painted here and there with thick, glossy red lacquer to resemble heavy puddles of blood. Charming. There was no orchestra section—music and lights were obviously being run from booths on either side of the heavy curtain—and the first row of seats seemed shockingly close to the stage itself.

The stage was completely empty, and then thwick—a spotlight snapped on, and suddenly a woman was standing in the center of the stage. Her skirts were still swaying a little from the movement. It was vampire speed, I knew, but the audience just saw another Las Vegas trick. They gasped and applauded. The woman, a small blonde in an immaculate Victorian gown, smiled at the applause for a moment, then held up a hand. The crowd went silent, staring at her. Her long hair tumbled down her shoulders in thick, shining curls. Even at this distance, she was exquisite, like a human doll.

“Good evening, my darlings,” she said. “Welcome to Demeter. My name is Lucy, and I’m sure you know my story.” She gave a coquettish smile, eerily similar to the animated version from the preamble, which wasn’t an accident. She held her hands folded behind her back, a girlish, demure gesture that just happened to push her breasts out. Lucy made a show of looking down at herself.

“Of course, this is how I am always depicted, isn’t it? In the films, the stage shows, the copycat novels.” Her smile turned wry. “If, that is, I am not written out entirely or turned into a vapid whore.” She sighed, one hand reaching up to play with a perfect corkscrew of blonde hair. “But this Lucy is only a facade. A perfect, useless representation with no thoughts, no agency.”

The hand at her hair ripped viciously downward, faster than I could follow the movement. Suddenly Lucy was standing there in a skintight black sheath dress, holding up the ripped-away Victorian garb in one hand. There was a chunk of blonde wig attached to it, and when I squinted I could see that her real hair was cut in a sleek bob, angled so the points just brushed her shoulders on either side. Black high heels, at least six inches tall, were strapped to her feet. “I am not a story,” she said, in a voice so fervent it was hypnotic. “Not a doll, not a prize. Not anymore. I am vampire.”

Nerves churned my stomach. Dashiell was definitely not going to like this, but couldn’t it be pretty much written off? Sure, she was telling the truth, but no one would think it was anything but a trick. Right?

Lucy began to move, prowling soundlessly around the stage in her obscenely high heels. Hell, just moving around in those shoes looked supernatural to me. I would have fallen and broken my jaw for sure. “Tonight I will show you otherworldly feats of hypnotism, agility, and speed.” She paused, still in the center of the stage, only a few feet from the lacquer blood. She made a show of looking around the cavernous empty space. “But first, my darlings, first. I must show you the truth. Show you”—her lip curled, and her voice took on a terrible power—“what we are.”

She raised her bare, pale arms into a V, and four additional spotlights snapped on behind her, two on either side. From my angle in the balcony I could see the openings in the stage ceiling, where four men stood waiting in identical black slacks and ribbed tank tops that showed off arms corded with muscle. Before my brain could even guess at what would happen, they all dove from their perches. They spun through the air like Olympic divers, twisting and somersaulting before landing on the stage, each in a perfect crouch.

There was a moment of suspended silence as every single member of the audience realized the same thing: There were no safety harnesses. No nets, no ropes of any kind. As one, the four men held up their hands and turned in a slow circle, showing that they had no protective gear. The man closest to Lucy stepped forward to put his arm around her waist, claiming her. Arthur Holmwood. Together, the two of them thrust their free entwined hands in the air, and the audience exploded into applause. And I felt my stomach drop through the floor of the balcony.

Okay, yeah. Dashiell was going to be pissed.

Chapter 10

For the next ninety minutes, the Holmwoods—plus a cast of six more, by my count—showed off every vampire trick I could think of, and a few I hadn’t even known about. They ran and danced onstage at superhuman speeds. Arthur wheeled out a tank of water for one of those old-fashioned magician tricks, where someone unlocks themselves from chains underwater—only this time, the vampire extra inside the tank simply tore apart the chains and settled down on the bottom of the tank, pretending to be bored. He even began flipping through a waterlogged magazine, getting a laugh from the audience. Vampires do breathe, partly from habit, partly to keep blood pumping through their bodies, and partly so they can speak—but they can go a long time without if they want to. After a few minutes with the magazine, an assistant ran out and pushed the tank to one side, where it would remain until the end of the show, to prove the vampire inside didn’t need air.

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